I have been reading a fascinating account of Alexander McCall-Smith and his prestigious literary output. In particular he wrote an episode of Colduroy Road as an on-line serial at the rate of one chapter per day. What a brilliant idea.
I don't claim to be up to McColl-Smith's level of output, but I can offer my readers something similar.What follows is the opening prologue of my novel Naked Aggression. It’s a gritty crime story. Try it. If you want to read more, tune in again tomorrow for chapter one.
When I was a lot younger I had a loop of film stuck inside my head. It only ran when I was asleep, which is why I was unable to control it. The images were always the same: vivid Technicolour scenes that ran again and again.
I was driving my dad’s vintage Buick Skylark on Interstate 405 west of LA. Most times it was the busiest highway in the US, but the traffic was unusually light on that hot summer evening and I was driving fast. Much too fast. My high school date was laughing. Her long golden hair billowed out behind her. She looked at me with eyes all aglow, like she’d never had such a good time. Then she glanced ahead and her face changed. Her eyes were suddenly filled with a look of horror.
I followed her gaze and caught just a glimpse of a truck pulling out from an on-ramp. We were almost upon it, too close to stop. That was when the film jammed. Everything froze except the intense sense of horror. And that went on and on.
I used to wake up in a cold sweat. Screaming. Always a cold sweat. Always screaming. In the harsh light of day, when I was fully awake, I would remember the rest of it. Especially those last few moments. How could anyone forget?
The girl was called Carrie-Ann. I loved her and I thought we would have a good life together after we graduated. She was buried by the time I got out of hospital, but her memory stayed with me a long time. Her parents never spoke to me again. Who could blame them? I killed their daughter.
“It was the trucker’s fault,” my dad kept telling me. “He was high on booze. Wasn’t paying attention.”
But dad knew the truth. It was me—I was to blame.
A few years later, when I’d grown up a bit and the nightmares had started to fade, I joined the US air force. They taught me how to fly. More than that, they taught me how to bomb the enemies of Uncle Sam. They also taught me to deal with any other miserable boneheads who weren’t actually a threat to the US but deserved to be taken out. I practised what they taught me and then I went into action over Iraq in a B52. That was 1991, at the start of the First Gulf War. Operation Desert Storm. I dropped bombs on the enemy, killing them in cold blood. My CO said I was good at it. At first I never felt guilty about it, never suffered a single nightmare because war was different. It was a remote sort of killing. I never got to see the victims and, besides, I figured the other side deserved all we threw at them. It never occurred to me that casualties of war included innocent kids.
I might have gone on like that but a couple of years later I saw what bombing did to innocent victims on the ground in a place called Bosnia. That film rolled again inside my head and I guess I just cracked up. The past caught up with the present and I realised I’d been wrong all along. War wasn’t different at all. Killing was killing. In a pique of arrogance I said I wasn’t going to shoot or bomb anyone ever again. I guess I must have over-stepped the limits because the air force decided to get rid of me. In the long, painful days that followed, the memory of Carrie-Ann often came back to haunt me.
And then, one day, things got one whole lot worse.
To be continued